Sparks & Honey outlines its ‘cultural mapping’ vision

Agency relies on Q, a ‘cultural intelligence system’ to summarise culture and apply real-time insights to clients

US agency, sparks & honey, is using cultural mapping through data and social insight to identify emerging cultural trends, helping brands make important decisions and gain greater insights at the tipping point of their popularity.

Hatched in 2012, the agency was created on the belief that cultural relevance is the most important driver of business in today’s economy. In four years, it has grown to 60 people working in the New York City office, and is rapidly expanding its Los Angeles team.

CMO caught up with agency founder and CEO, Terry Young, who said the company considers itself an “always-on intelligence agency” that leverages the power of culture to open minds and create possibilities in the now, next, and future, through the use of its sophisticated Cultural Intelligence System, Q.

What trends, data, technology, has allowed the group to offer such a service?

Terry Young: Q is a proprietary Intelligence System made up of a combination of man and machine, quantity and quality, which sparks & honey uses to advise agency and client partners on everything from brand strategy and innovation, to marketing communications and editorial planning.

At the heart of Q is the sparks & honey Cultural Database, containing all of the signals being collected from the outside world, 24/7, which are then synthesized into patterns each day during the sparks & honey Daily Culture Briefing, at which time the full agency and outside guests come together to summarize the last 24-48 hours in culture and apply real-time insights to clients and emerging trends.

Q also comprises of the sparks & honey Human Network, consisting of leaders, influencers, innovators and power connectors that provide a direct pipeline to the edge of culture, where innovators are working to create change. The sparks & honey Human Network is led by Annalie Killian, a power networker who founded and ran the Amplifier Festival in Australia for over 10 years.

Why is cultural mapping increasingly important for brands?

TY: We have always prided ourselves on being one step ahead - finding the fringe signals that are just starting to bubble up in culture before they become major cultural and economic shifts. The importance of this is that today, more than ever, brands need a partner to help them make sense of the world at large.

sparks & honey founder and CEO Terry Young
sparks & honey founder and CEO Terry Young

It's about helping brands be disruptors, and not be the ones getting disrupted. We’re able to do that through our one-of-a-kind cultural analysis process rooted in a unique man and machine approach. Q is the machine part of that equation.

How does the agency determine what is a trend in the first place versus a blip or something that's not going to last? And when is a trend at a tipping point to becoming popular?

TY: Sparks & honey’s proprietary trend set, the Element of Culture, tracks culture across three key groups — Mega Trends, Macro Trends, and Micro Trends. These trends are monitored and scored based on energy (how fast they are moving), prediction (how long they will last), and reach (how many people will be exposed to them).

What are some examples of how Sparks & Honey are working with different brands to identify cultural trends and objectives?

TY
: Sparks & honey uses the Cultural Intelligence System to provide insight and foresight across a range of curious brands, from Fortune 500 companies to industry disruptors, and beyond.

One example of how sparks & honey uses real-time insights to drive cultural relevance is the work being done on the agency’s baby nutrition client, Gerber. Gerber came to sparks & honey with the challenge of connecting with Millennial moms in their natural habitat - Instagram. Sparks & honey immediately identified an opportunity for Gerber to join in on the online parenting conversation in a more culturally relevant and authentic way than the rest of their competition.

By turning on the Cultural Intelligence System, sparks & honey was able to identify the relevant consumer trends and new semantic styles that could evolve the Gerber Instagram channel into a lively and relatable content feed for social-savvy, mobile-first parents.

A collection of trends, ranging from parenting styles to the latest online fads, were used to develop culturally relevant content that drove powerful results — including 40,000 new followers (6x more than the next largest competitor) and a higher engagement rate than the Top 25 Most Engaging Brands on Instagram - all within under a year of working together.

What’s the ongoing evolution of the agency's business model?

TY: From expanded data science capabilities and human intelligence to evolved proprietary tools and techniques, sparks & honey has worked to continually evolve its system for uncovering insights as technology has become smarter and more sophisticated.

By growing its team of data scientists, the volume and speed at which sparks & honey is able to pull in global cultural signals has increased. The tool stack is constantly being refined with unique methodologies like patent analysis, cultural forensics and brand elasticity, allowing for the agency to expand into new offerings and work faster and more efficiently.

Are there are any plans to bring it to Australia?

Sparks & honey is currently in discussions with fellow Omnicom agencies to bring our proprietary Cultural Intelligence System over to the Australian market over the next 12 months.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu

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